The Sages

29 September 2020

Copyright 2020 Dianne Skoll. All Rights Reserved.

MOM and DAD are a couple in their late 30s. KATE is their 13-year-old daughter. The scene opens with MOM and DAD putting dinner on the table.

MOM: Kate! Supper's ready. Come on down, honey!

KATE: (Offstage) Coming!

KATE enters.

MOM: So, Kate, how was your day?

KATE: Good, mom, as usual.

DAD: Of course it was! (winks at Kate)

MOM: OK, Kate, have a seat. We'll start dinner just as soon as Dad has finished today's reading.

KATE sits. DAD opens a thick book.

DAD: Today's reading is about the end of the Terrible Days and the beginning of Our Perfect Era, as brought about by the Blessed Sages.

KATE and MOM together: Blessed be the Sages.

DAD: (Reading) "In the distant mists of time before Our Perfect Era, our world was torn asunder by conflict. Nations warred with nations, inflicting untold sorrow and destruction. Groups within nations fought one another, inflicting sadness and despair. Some within communities caused mayhem and chaos, inflicting fear and terror. And even within families, there was discord as people inflicted pain even on those they loved."

DAD: "And in the midst of this conflict, chaos, terror and pain, there arose a group of Sages..."

KATE and MOM together: Blessed be the Sages.

DAD: "... who saw the despair and the tragedy, and they determined to repair the world. They studied and toiled for many years to determine the cause of our unhappiness and at last they achieved enlightenment. They set about eliminating the reasons for conflict and hate. Through their tireless and holy work, they eventually brought about Our Perfect Era, in which people across the world are at peace, in which communities are safe and united, and in which family conflict is unknown. We therefore give thanks to our Sages for the blessings of peace, of contentment, and of Our Perfect Era."

ALL: Blessed be the Sages.

DAD: Wonderful. Let's eat. Dear, could you please pass the broccoli?

MOM: Here you go. Enjoy!

DAD takes some broccoli

DAD: Kate, here's the broccoli.

KATE: Um... that's OK. I think I'll skip the broccoli tonight.

MOM: Kate? What's wrong? Don't you like broccoli?

KATE: No Mom, of course I like broccoli. It's just... it's just my tummy feels a bit funny, that's all.

DAD: Oh? Should we make an appointment with Dr. Perkins?

KATE: No, Dad, it's fine. I'm sure it will pass.

DAD: (to Mom) Dear, did Kate get enough sleep last night?

MOM: Yes, she got nine hours, the standard amount for a girl of her age. So that can't be it.

DAD: Kate, did you eat anything out of the ordinary today?

KATE: No, Dad. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure I'll be fine.

MOM: I think we should keep an eye on this, Kate. You know we all like broccoli...

KATE: Of course we all like broccoli!

MOM: ... so I am concerned.

KATE: OK, well, I think I can have a bit of broccoli. I'm sure it will be OK.

DAD: Good, good! That's what I like to see! We're all enjoying the same food.

MOM: That warms my heart.

KATE: OK. (Takes some broccoli.)

MOM: Oh, Kate, I forgot to tell you. Miss Andrews from school has assigned you to be a Welcoming Friend for a new student.

KATE: What? Why me?

MOM: Oh, Kate. You know as well as I do that you were randomly picked by the System.

KATE: Oh, right. The System.

DAD: Kate, the System was designed by the Sages and it is what makes this Our Perfect Era.

KATE: I know, Dad. I'd just forgotten for a moment. Mom, so who is this new student?

MOM: His name is Arnold and he's just moved here from District 4. I'm sure you'll make him feel welcome.

KATE: Of course.

Fade to Black

The scene takes place in Kate's bedroom. She's in bed and Mom is kissing her goodnight

MOM: OK, Kate. Sweet dreams, darling, and I'll see you in the morning.

KATE: Mom... can I ask you something?

MOM: Of course, Kate, honey.

KATE: Do you... do you really like broccoli?

MOM: (taken aback) Of course I do! How can anyone not like broccoli?

KATE: Oh... I guess, yeah. I mean, I like it. I was just wondering if you did.

MOM: (relieved) OK, honey. Good night.

KATE: Mom... can I ask you another question?

MOM: Sure. Anything at all.

KATE: Do you love Dad?

MOM: What? Of course. What kind of question is that?

KATE: It's just... I mean, the System put you two together, right?

MOM: Yes. Blessed be the Sages.

KATE: But what if the System had made a mistake? What if it put you with someone else?

MOM: But it doesn't matter. We're all alike and I would have loved anyone the System put me with.

KATE: But then... but isn't Dad special to you?

MOM: Yes, Dad is special to me now. But anyone I matched with would have become special to me.

KATE: That makes me kind of sad, Mom.

MOM: Why, Kate? It shows that the System works. In Our Most Perfect Era, nobody needs to be sad or heartbroken. We all know we'll be matched with someone who will become special and we will be happy. In the Terrible Days, people made bad matches and were full of unhappiness. That never happens now.

KATE: Am I special to you?

MOM: Oh, Kate my darling, of course you are! You're my Most Precious Child and Dad and I love you very much.

KATE: But what if The System had given you someone else?

MOM: Oh, Kate, don't think like that. Worrying about things that didn't happen can only lead to unhappiness. What is real is that The System gave you to me and Dad and you became our Most Precious Child and we love you.

KATE: I love you and Dad too, Mom.

MOM: Of course. Good night, my darling.

Mom exits, fade to black.

This scene is the next day, in the schoolyard. ARNOLD is about 14 years old.

ARNOLD: So, you're Kate. My Welcoming Friend.

KATE: Yes, and you're Arnold?

ARNOLD: Guilty.

KATE: What's it like in District 4? I heard that's where you are from.

ARNOLD: Oh, pretty much the same as here. Perfect houses, perfect schools. It is, after all, Our Perfect Era.

KATE: Blessed be the Sages.

ARNOLD: Yeah. The Sages.

KATE: So why did you move here? Were your parents reassigned to different work duties?

ARNOLD: Well, it's a long story.

KATE: That's OK. We have time. Tell me the story.

ARNOLD: First, I want to ask you something.

KATE: Go ahead.

ARNOLD: Do you like broccoli?

KATE: What? Yes, of course I do. Who doesn't?

ARNOLD: I don't. I hate broccoli.

KATE (shocked): What? How can that be?

ARNOLD: I don't know, but I just hate it.

KATE: That's impossible. The System makes us all the same; that's what makes this Our Perfect Era.

ARNOLD: Well, it's true. I hate broccoli. And you wanna know something else? I love to fart.

KATE: That's disgusting!

ARNOLD: No, it's not. I love to fart, and I hate broccoli. Quite a conundrum, no?

KATE: Did you ever tell your parents this? That should have been caught by the Department of Corrections. That's where my Dad works.

ARNOLD: Ah, the Department of Corrections. Funny you should mention that. I can tell you the story of how I came here from District 4, if you like.

KATE: Go ahead.

ARNOLD: In District 4, I had a very good friend. His name was Robert, and here's the strange thing: We were not matched as Welcoming Friends by the System. We just sort of started talking and became friends.

KATE: That's weird. Why would you just become friends with someone unless you were assigned as a Welcoming Friend?

ARNOLD: Well, it happened that way, OK? Anyway, we would hang out together, we'd try to get chore assignments together and we'd study together. We really got along well.

KATE: That's good. I hope we can get along well.

ARNOLD: Well, here's the thing. We sort of were more than just friends.

KATE: What's that supposed to mean?

ARNOLD: How old are you, Kate? 12? 13? Did you ever look at a boy and get kind of butterfly feelings in your stomach? And really hope he liked you?

KATE: Well... there was this one boy a few months ago named Gary. I was really hoping to be assigned as his Welcoming Friend, but it didn't work out.

ARNOLD: Gee. Thanks.

KATE: No, I didn't mean anything against you. It's just that Gary was... I dunno... he seemed special to me.

ARNOLD: Well, that's how Robert and I were to each other. One evening during Street Tidying Chore, we ducked down an alley just to talk and spend time with each other. We were talking and laughing and didn't notice the time. When we saw how late it was, Robert said we'd better be getting home, but we both just stayed there. After a few minutes, he came up to me and he kissed me.

KATE: Wait, what? He kissed you? But you're both boys. Why would he kiss you?

ARNOLD: He wanted to. And I wanted him to.

KATE: But... but that's not how it works. It has to be a boy and a girl. The System can't work otherwise.

ARNOLD: I know. We are mistakes, I guess.

KATE: How did you get missed by the Department of Corrections?

ARNOLD: Well, as we were standing there, Robert's parents found us. Robert and I were both sent to the Department of Corrections for a week. I hardly remember anything of that time, but I just remember that afterwards, Robert was assigned to be a Welcoming Friend to a girl and he never spoke to me again. My parents were angry about what had happened and said we had to move somewhere for a fresh start. So here we are.

KATE: And were you corrected?

ARNOLD: No, Kate. No, I wasn't.

KATE: But that's impossible. My Dad says the Department of Corrections always works. It's the failsafe for the System and the protector of Our Perfect Era.

ARNOLD: It didn't work on me, Kate.

KATE: So what... you still like boys?

ARNOLD: Yes. And I still like farts and hate broccoli.

KATE: Arnold... can I tell you something?

ARNOLD: Sure.

KATE: I... I also don't like broccoli.

ARNOLD: Hah! I knew it! I had a feeling about you, Kate. I think you're like me.

KATE: No! No, I'm not. It's only broccoli. It's not like I like girls instead of boys, or enjoy farting. It's just one small thing.

ARNOLD: What do the Blessed Sages say, Kate? "Uniformity is the guarantor of Our Perfect Era."

KATE: But it's just broccoli.

ARNOLD: Really? That's all?

KATE: Well...

ARNOLD: Well, what?

KATE: I don't know really how to say this. But I feel... different. I feel like I'm acting and I'm wondering if everyone else is acting too, if deep down everyone feels different, as if they don't fit in. I know, I know that differences were the cause of the Terrible Days and it scares me...

ARNOLD: Don't think that. Differences did not cause the Terrible Days. And getting rid of differences didn't bring about any Perfect Era.

KATE: How can you say that? The Sages...

ARNOLD: The Sages. The Sages. That's all we hear. Do you really think a few dozen Sages who lived a couple of hundred years ago know better than everyone else? That they have the right to make us into something we're not?

KATE: But we are at peace, we have all we need, and everyone's happy.

ARNOLD: We're prisoners, Kate. We're prisoners in a comfortable prison and you only get to see the prison when you're in the Department of Corrections. Tell me, do you know how kids are made?

KATE: Of course. They taught us in school. The Mom and the Dad each give cells, and the computer picks the best cells for the best-fitting child. Then if they need to do some tweaks, they adjust the DNA until it's perfect, and then they implant the embryo into the Mom.

ARNOLD: You ever wonder what happens if there's a mistake?

KATE: A mistake? What do you mean?

ARNOLD: Well, for instance, let's say they pick the wrong egg. Then what?

KATE: I don't know. I didn't think it was possible.

ARNOLD: Any system can make mistakes. I'll tell you what they do. If they discover it early enough, they take the cells out of the Mom and they correct the DNA. If they can't correct it, then they kill the cells. But once in a while, once in a very long while, they don't discover the mistake in time and the baby is born. Most of the time, those babies are found out pretty young. They get sent to the Department of Corrections and most of the time, they come back.

KATE: Most of the time? What happens to the ones who don't come back.

ARNOLD: Nobody knows.

KATE: Were you sent as a baby?

ARNOLD: No. My case was even rarer. They didn't discover the mistake at all, not until I was 13 years old and they found me kissing Robert. They say I was one of the oldest ever to go to the Department of Corrections.

KATE: So what are you going to do now?

ARNOLD: Nothing. Just pretend. And I have feelings about people, you know, and I have a feeling I can trust you to not to tell anyone else this.

KATE: Of course I won't tell anyone. But maybe it's for the best in the end? Maybe you can learn to fit in and not be upset about things that didn't happen.

ARNOLD: I hate that! You know why they always tell us not to think about things that didn't happen? Why they want us not to think about what isn't?

KATE: Because it only leads to unhappiness.

ARNOLD: No! They don't want us thinking about what isn't because they don't want us to think about what could be. Wouldn't you want to be in a world where not fitting in was OK? Where you could be different and nobody minded? Where... where you could hate broccoli out loud?

KATE: No! Not if it would bring back the Terrible Days!

ARNOLD: Kate, these are the Terrible Days.

KATE: Stop. Please stop. I need to go home now.

ARNOLD: OK. See you tomorrow then?

KATE: Yes, tomorrow. But please let's talk about something else tomorrow.

Fade to black.

This scene takes place in the kitchen. KATE and DAD are sitting at the table.

KATE: Dad, can I ask you something?

DAD: You just did, haha. No really, go ahead.

KATE: What do you do at your job?

DAD: Oh. Well. I'm in charge of DNA verification.

KATE: What's that?

DAD: It works like this. When we're making a baby, I have to check the DNA combinations of all the possible cells from the Mom and the Dad to see which are good ones. I can reject the bad ones pretty quickly, and then I give a list of the best ones to the computer for the final decision.

KATE: And what if you make a mistake?

DAD: A mistake? What? No. Even if I make a mistake, the computer will catch it. I'm just quicker at seeing the bad ones so the computer doesn't have to spend so much time analyzing them.

KATE: But what if the computer makes a mistake?

DAD: Kate? Where is this coming from? Computers don't make mistakes.

KATE: Then what about the babies who get sent to the Department of Corrections?

DAD: The what? Babies? No, Kate, babies don't get sent to the Department of Corrections.

KATE: I was told they were sent, sometimes.

DAD: Who said that? No, I'm telling you, babies don't get sent here. Who told you they did?

KATE: Just... just someone in my class. I guess they were wrong.

DAD: That's right... they were wrong. OK, Kate honey, I think you'd better go up to do your homework. It's 4:30 and we both know that 50 minutes is optimal for you.

KATE: Yes, Dad. OK, see you.

Kate leaves; fade to black.

The next day, in the schoolyard.

ARNOLD: Kate! Kate! Come here for a sec!

KATE: What is it?

ARNOLD: Something amazing has happened. I found a note from Robert!

KATE: A note? Where?

ARNOLD: Just on my doorstep. I went to bring in the newspaper for my Dad and there it was.

KATE: What does it say?

ARNOLD: Robert also wasn't corrected! The Department of Corrections failed! But he was worried they'd find out, so he somehow got in touch with the Underground.

KATE: The what?

ARNOLD: The Underground. It's a group of people who are different and who want to live their differences.

KATE: That's awful! Do they fight and hurt each other?

ARNOLD: No. That's the thing. They help each other.

KATE: But they're different.

ARNOLD: They help each other in spite of that. Kate, I need to join them. I can't live this life any longer.

KATE: It's just because of Robert, I think.

ARNOLD: No. I mean, partly. But I feel like I've been suffocating all my life and I need to breathe.

KATE: OK. Well, when are you leaving?

ARNOLD: Tonight.

KATE: Tonight? How?

ARNOLD: I can't tell you. I can't risk being found out. Anyway, I have to go. I need to get ready.

KATE: Wait, Arnold...

ARNOLD: Goodbye, Kate. You were a good Welcoming Friend.

KATE: Arnold, can I come with you?

ARNOLD: What? Really?

KATE: Yes. I also feel like I have been suffocating all my life. I don't want to bless the Sages. I want to curse them. They are awful and their System is monstrous. I want to come with you.

ARNOLD: You have to be sure, Kate. You won't be able to come back to this life.

KATE: I'm sure. I've never been surer of anything in my life.

Fade to black

This scene takes place in an abandoned warehouse.

KATE: I told my parents I had late street-tidying duty.

ARNOLD: OK, that should buy us enough time until Robert gets here with the Underground guide.

KATE: Where are we going?

ARNOLD: I don't know. They don't tell us until we get there. But the Underground guide has a car and can get us where we need to be.

KATE: This place is cold.

ARNOLD: I know. But it shouldn't be too much longer.

ROBERT and EMMA (the Underground guide) enter. ROBERT rushes over to ARNOLD and they embrace.

EMMA (pointing at Kate): Who's this? You said one person, Robert.

ARNOLD: No, it's OK. She's with me. She wants out too.

EMMA: I hope you've vetted her. The last thing we need is trouble.

ROBERT: Emma, if Arnold trusts her, then she's fine.

EMMA: OK. I'm not thrilled, but fine. Hi, I'm Emma. You are?

KATE: I'm Kate. Hi.

EMMA: OK, Kate. Here are the rules. No questions until we get where we going. You obey everything I tell you. And you wear this. Right hand.

EMMA passes KATE a silver glove.

KATE: What's that?

EMMA: Blocks your subcutaneous tracker. You're probably young enough to have one. Most likely, nobody's tracked you yet because it's still pretty early, but if you stay away too long they'll come after us.

KATE: OK. (Puts on the glove.)

(There's a crashing sound off stage. MOM enters.)

MOM: Kate! What's going on? I was worried about you.

KATE: Oh, Mom...

MOM (sees the silver glove): What's that? Oh... Kate. Oh, Kate, my darling.

KATE: What, Mom?

MOM: I know what that is, Kate. And I know who these people are.

KATE: I have to go, Mom.

MOM: But why?

KATE: Can't you see what's happening? We're all prisoners. This isn't our perfect era. It's a nightmare. We all have to be the same.

MOM: But the Sages know that sameness eliminates conflict. Kate, darling, come home.

KATE: I can't mom. I'm sorry.

[KATE, ROBERT, ARNOLD and EMMA leave.]

MOM: Kate! [she begins sobbing]

[DAD arrives]

DAD: Are you OK? Where's Kate?

MOM: Oh, she's gone. Kate's gone!

DAD: Where? You have to tell me where. She can be corrected.

MOM: What?

DAD: We can take her to the Department of Corrections. We can correct whatever is wrong.

MOM: But nothing's wrong with Kate.

DAD: Where did she go?

MOM: I can't tell you.

DAD: What? You have to! Are you helping someone to defy the Sages?

MOM: She can't go into the Department of Corrections.

DAD: Listen to me. If you help someone defy the Sages, you'll go to the Department of Corrections. Please tell me where she went.

MOM: I can't.

DAD: You know I have to report you? You know that after the Department of Corrections, you might not even remember Kate?

MOM: This is Our Perfect Era. Do parents betray their children?

DAD: [Anguished] Please! You can't do this. You would risk your memories of Kate?

MOM: If I forget Kate, she will have to remember for both of us, until the end of Our Perfect Era.

[BLACKOUT]